Jesse Malin exemplifies an increasingly rare breed—a songwriter with an almost umbilical connection to a New York City that barely exists anymore outside of fading photos and fading memories. It’s fair, I think, to consider him part of a lineage stretching from Lou Reed through Jim Carroll, Richard Hell, Alan Vega, et al. From his time as a really young kid in the pioneering NYHC band Heart Attack, through his ‘90s alterna-fame with glam punks D Generation (a band that also included my DM colleague Howie Pyro), to his 21st Century solo work, Malin has grown into a worthy Bard of the Boroughs. His new album, New York Before the War, may actually be the apotheosis of his career so far. (I have no doubt that some DGen fans would disagree.)
Since DGen, Malin has shed some Lower East Side punk classicism for a broader approach; there are traces of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen all over the new album. But it’s an eclectic batch of songs, and still for the greater part identifiably punk-inspired, and still absolutely classicist. Malin told DM that the title New York Before the War itself refers to things that New York, and society at large, have lost.
It’s no particular war, it’s surviving and fighting against all the fucking corporate bastards, all the changes on the planet, with New York being one of the central pieces of the world. It’s that the world is such a disposable, apathetic, digitized place and we’re burning through it so fast. I’m into holding on to things that are important, and finding them, and making them, and celebrating them.
In that spirit of touching back to the worthy past for inspiration, we thought it would be fun to look at Malin’s very early roots, as a member of Heart Attack. That band formed in 1980, when its members ranged in age from 12 to 16. Even at that age, the band managed to tour, and they released a 7” and two E.P.s, which were collected on the inevitable discography CD The Last War 1980-84. Malin was kind enough to share his old stash of fliers with us, and when we prodded him for personal reminiscences of the shows, he was supremely obliging.
That’s the first time anybody took my picture. That’s me and two other members of Heart Attack. Javier, on drums, from Mexico City. I met him through an ad in the Village Voice, he was a very original drummer. In the middle is John Frawley, he was from Flushing, Queens, and had been in the band The Mob, who were our friends and rivals at the time. He played bass. And that’s me on the right, I was 14 years old, and that was around the time the “God is Dead” 7” came out on the Damaged Goods fanzine label. And we were on East 12th Street, with a bunch of Puerto Rican guys in the back, and that was shot for Sounds, the UK weekly newspaper. Tim Sommer was doing a piece on the early, early New York hardcore scene, and I think we put out the first 7” from that scene, which became kind of a collectable, but it got bootlegged a few times. And that’s not our car, it just looked like that down there.
171A was the studio where Bad Brains recorded the ROIR cassette. They had a record store in the basement called “Rat Cage.” Jerry Williams, rest his soul, wonderful guy, recorded all our bands there, let us rehearse there, had illegal gigs, the Bad Brains LIVED there, Black Flag rehearsed there, it was one of the first places to support hardcore. The first Beastie Boys record Polly Wog Stew was recorded there as well, with the famous “Egg Raid on Mojo.” That was a benefit, three nights at a theater, and believe it or not, with that bill, it was kinda empty! But a great show.
The later years of Heart Attack, we got a bit noisy, and somehow attracted fans in those bands, so we played with Sonic Youth, we played with Swans. Swans were the loudest thing I’d ever seen at the time, louder than Motörhead, and they were very good to us. We did a few shows, mostly in New York, and that one was at the SIN Club, which means “Safety In Numbers.” That night there were gunshots going off across the street, and we were the very few white kids at 3rd St and Avenue C. The SIN Club took chances and put on great shows, and that was the cool diversity, being able to have Heart Attack and Swans, mix those two worlds. I guess the common thread would be anger, angst, intensity.
Continues after the jump…